Sunday, May 28, 2006

Racing and Recovering

Racing and recovering is not for me. Some guys can get away with it and even thrive on it...but my body seems to like a steady diet of high volume aerobic training...and specifically lots of time @ AeT (about 20bpm below LTHR). After coming back from Arkansas physically and mentally fried, I took a few days off the road bike. One might suspect overtraining as the culprit for the way I was feeling, but in fact I believe it to be just the opposite. Not enough training due to the need for race freshness....along with some mental burnout from travel.

I took monday off completely, then did some easy MTB riding tuesday. Wednesday was a steady /tempo 2 hr ride on the TT bike (always does me good). On thursday I headed back into the woods again , this time with our pro MTB friend Karen Masson. This was an awesome and inspiring ride. She took me on some wicked technical sections on some trails over in Pisgah where I had not been before. One particular section was a bunch of technical rock drop-offs. I had not done anything like that in many years....but since I was following her I just got it done. I was terrified , in a good way, and felt great after getting through it. I could feel myself coming back to life and feeling inspired on the bike again. It should be noted that Karen is an absolute stud on the bike ....she was riding her singlespeed. She dusted me on all the downhills and, though we weren't going hard on the climbs, I always felt like I was going harder than her....and I had gears!

On friday I came out of my self imposed nightime crit retirement to line up at the big NRC crit in Raleigh. I asked team director Chad if he would rather have me there racing, or supporting the guys on the radio, and making sure they were all taken care of. I got the impression he wanted me racing, so it was to least for a little while. It was a fantastic event and 100 of the best crit riders in the states were on hand. The start was WICKED fast and the course had like 9 turns in the 1 mile. 50 laps starting at 8:15PM meant not much daylight. I have enough trouble with crits during the day, when the visibility gets low I am useless....but I wanted to try.

So we do a few fast laps and my position is not bad ...about mid-pack. Then it starts raining. crit+ dark+ rain= freakout . I started sliding back through the field in every turn. It actually took quite a while before I was at the back....when I was... I got about a lap, then was gapped out of a corner and goodbye. I stopped on the back stretch to watch for a few laps. Right before I got dropped I did see the classy pro trick of a guy getting off his bike and letting air out of his tire to get a free lap. LAME. I won't name names even though I should. ...the only redeeming fact is that this PRO guy still didn't finish. After watching just 2 laps the race is completely blown apart...guys coming off everywhere and soon there is less than 1/2 the field left. Hekman is in GREAT position the entire time and Rich is tailgunning, but making After some light rain the skies finally open up with a deluge and things get really interesting...the field gets smaller and smaller as the winning break is established. Heckman looks great and with 2 to go I am convinced that he will get top 10. Rich is OTB, but there is less than 30 guys left in the race so he will get paid. At the bell the group comes through but Heck is off the back chasing....number flapping in the breeze and some road rash. He crashed, but got going pretty quick and finished up 21...Rich was a great showing for A&F at a big race...good work guys!

Instead of staying over we decide to drive back to A-ville and get home at 3 am. Saturday starts me back to my road endurance training and I get 5 HARD mountain hours in on the Doggett -Hot Springs loop. It was hot and I ran out of fluid with 20 miles to go.....I was shattered when I got home....but it felt great.

Today, Sunday, Cara and I did 4.5 hard hrs on the tandem with a small group...lots of climbing...again I was feeling it at the end, but in a good training sort of way.

I am on my way back to form.....

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Packfill in Russellville

Arkansas: round 2. After Joe Martin, we headed down to Russellville AR for the Tri - Peaks Stage race. We stayed in a hotel mon-wed nights and moved into our host housing on thursday evening. During the week we did recon on the new road courses....both of which were diffrent than previous years. As with most of the big races this season the field for this event would be much larger than last year...and tougher....with more of the big teams attending.

Friday evening's crit was every bit as hard as last year's for the first half. So hard in fact that I was dropped from the lead group 2 or 3 times...having to claw my way back. In one instance I was dropped so hard it took me (and 2 other guys) a full lap to get back onto the lead group...and this was only possible because the front slowed a bit. Finally a break went and the field slowed down to a manageable...even pleasant pace for the remainder of the race. The large break of 11 finished about 40 seconds clear of the field. I was certainly not concerned about that. 4 of us finished with the field and 2 lost a couple of minutes ...not bad....Mark even managed 2nd in the field sprint.

This race finishes on sunday with a 2 mile 20%+ climb to the top of Mt. Nebo. This is where the GC is decided and much time is gained or lost. With this in mind the team tactic/goal was to conserve, try to make the splits in the road races, finish with the field saturday and stay with the front group sunday getting to the last climb with as little time loss as possible....then do a good climb. This was not going to be as easy as it sounds with 3 tough climbs on saturday before the finish and 2 before the last one sunday.

The race stated at 7:30 AM saturday...95 miles with 3 substantial climbs and a flat run-in to the finish. Shortly after the first climb a break went up the road...ok...then another large chase group went. I thought that with such a large group up the road and the majority of team leaders still in the field we would see a big chase toward the end of the stage and either catch the group or finish close behind. I was wrong. The big teams gambled, no real chase happened, and the break finished 2 minutes up on us....with over 20 guys! I was a bit confused by Toyota and Health Net's tactic here...but I figured they must have something up their sleeves for tomorrow. I was really dissappointed after the race. We basically just rode around with the field all day. While I thought this was an ok idea, it dawned on me that we didn't really RACE. We should have had at least one guy in the break....we needed to at least try to race with these guys...otherwise we are just packfill. On a positive note AEG Toshiba stole the glory from the big boys today...score one for the underdogs....Toyota had 3 guys in the break and didn't even get top 3 on the stage....AND lost the lead of the race.

Stage 3: 85 miles with 2 intermediate climbs and the mountian top finish. We started fast again today, but a few miles later AEG had the race under control setting tempo on the front. 2 riders got up the road. I was riding near the front talking to Reid telling him I was going to wait until after the first climb to try to go with a move. I was afraid that if I went too early, and was caught before the climb I might get dropped for good. As I was riding up the line I passed the race leader who was telling his guys on the radio that they didn't need to chase the riders off the front down, but just keep a steady tempo. It dawned on me that this was the perfect time to get a break going. With a team controlling the front riding steady, but not chasing a small less than dangerous breakaway. The next thing I knew I was attacking, trying to get to the 2 riders up the road.

I probably waited too long to attack because it was a difficult bridge that took over a mile...ouch...but I got there and felt surprisingly good. We rolled along pretty well and got out of sight. All 3 of us knew that we needed to get some time before the first climb. If we could make it over clear of the field, we had a chance to stay away for a long time....I had no illusions of making it all day....but at least I was racing. We hit the climb and it hurt. Stu Gillespie (TIAA CREFF) did most of the pace setting on the climb, I pulled through some, but the other guy was just hanging on. We were going as hard as we could and it hurt. On the second to last pitch I still could not see the field, but we could feel that we were peing pressed from behind. Just as we hit the last pitch Tony Cruz comes flying by with about 6 guys in tow. Damn...I thought this might be a break...not that I could have stayed with them over the top, but I looked back and the field was strung out chasing right behind. It took every last ounce of energy I had to remain in contact with the group going over the top. So much for a long lasted all of 8 miles. I was bummed....but realized that now it was time to sit in, and try to recover for the 2nd climb, then the final race to the top of Nebo.

The field rolled fast and no other real breaks materialized the rest of the day. I had a spot of trouble on the 2nd climb, but was able to chase back on the downhill. As we rounded the final turns to the last climb the big teams lined out the field and there were gaps everywhere. At this point I was really feeling the heat (over 90 degrees) and just could not make the front as we hit the climb. The climb up the face of Nebo is like nothing else I have seen. It is just over 2 miles, and only takes about 15 minutes, but it is the steepest bit of road I have ever raced on. At one point there are 8 switchbacks that are over 23% grade. Unlike previous years where I have raced this climb well....this year I was spent, and feeling the early effects of heat exhaustion as we hit the lower steeps. It was hard enough just to get up it this year....I suffered badly. Last year I was only 2.5 minutes behind the stage winner going up this thing...this year I don't even want to know how far back I was. All of the team finished within a short time of each other...except for Reid. We had decided to wait at the finish and all ride back to the cars together. Reid had crashed on the first climb and never made it back to the field. We waited a while, but then realized he may already be back at the cars waiting depending on how serious his crash we headed down. 2/3 of the way down we saw Reid heading were all going to finish. We waited at the bottom for him to come down and heard his story. He had not been able to regain contact after the crash...and rode 70 miles essentially alone....and I thought I had a tough day!

After showereing and packing at our great host families house (Gary and Jane Barnes) we hit the road for a long 11 hour drive back to Asheville. I have to say I am a bit down on my performance over the last couple of weeks. I feel mentally and physically exhausted. While I think my general fitness is climbing is not up to par...not even as good as last year at this time....Now I need to regroup, recover, analyze my training and do what needs to be done to get where I need to be for my goal races.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Joe Martin Stage Race - trouble in Arkansas

Last Thursday Mark Hekman and I headed out for the double header stage races of Joe Martin and Tri-Peaks in Arkansas. After a 13 hour drive from Ashevegas to Fayetteville we made it just in time for the “manger meeting” at the JMSR. Since we have no team car here the meeting was pretty much useless to us except for the fact that with over 200 riders in the race they were going to enforce a 15% time cut for all stages…including the hill climb TT. The trip out was uneventful…mark likes Howard Stern so we got our fix of that….but we did discover what Mark called “the best fast food combination meal ever” at a Taco Bell/ KFC. Yes folks the #11 at this fine establishment contains: 2 tacos, 2 chicken strips, potato wedges and a drink ….all for about the price of 1.5 gallons of regular gasoline.

Ok, Ok to the racing….but I’ll warn you: there is not a lot of positive experiences to follow. JMSR is a 3 day/4 stage affair staring off with a 110 mile road race Friday afternoon. This race is on beautiful rolling roads and has a not-so steep, but almost 10 mile long climb about 25 miles from the finish downtown. We rolled out at a quick pace …all 200 + riders… and a break was established almost immediately. My initial intention was to try to get into the early move…and stick with being aggressive….but with all the very best pro teams and the size of the field, I pretty much chickened out. Of course I knew a break would most likely be suicide…..but my chances for any result here were nil to begin with anyway. Soooo after a long, fast, but not too difficult first half of the race, things started to get interesting. On a set of rail road tracks there was a HUGE crash….over 20 riders involved with some serious carnage….mostly to equipment. Turns out A&F teammate Ryan Gamm was involved….but we didn’t know for sure until later. The rest of us attempted to conserve and save energy for the big climb. As the climb started I was in OK position, but I didn’t see any of our other guys….HealthNet hit the front and set a solid field-reducing pace. I struggled at the back for the first few miles of the climb…then ….I was reduced myself. As I was yo-yoing off the lead group I saw teammates Mark and Abe in the next group behind so I let up a bit and went back to them. The three of us actually drove this group all the way to the top of the climb….picking up the shrapnel coming back from the front along the way. As we topped out the climb it became clear that we were NOT getting back to the front of the race. Turns out the front group was about 65 guys….this was THE split and none of us made it. You could have called us a “chase” group, but in fact we were the “laughing group”….essentially out of the race. I knew no matter how hard we rode with our group of now almost 50 riders we would lose between 5 and 10 minutes (we lost 8).

A little bit about etiquette in the laughing group: when you get “stuck” in this group there are generally some guidelines to follow…first you have to realize that you are out of the race for the day…save some of your energy for the next race. The group will most likely have some VERY experienced riders in it…and maybe even some really good riders who did their work for their team and are now just getting to the finish. They will know what they, and the group, need to do to make the time cut. Don’t attack the group!….you won’t get away and you won’t make any friends. You can ride as hard as you want at the front on the flats, but make sure you don’t ride so hard as to drop riders out the back on any climbs...also: if there is a crosswind….DON’T gutter the group…this is just common courtesy…you are not going to win the race today.

Ok, so we get to the finish and the 3 of us are a bit bummed that no one made the front group. Mark has been sick for a week and is still not feeling well, Abe is in his first race of this size, but I really don’t have any other excuse than I just didn’t make it. Shawn is the next rider in, but no Ryan. After a while I start asking around about crashed riders. The SRAM guy points to a DESTROYED Masi on the ground near his car. Ouch. The time cut is 40 minutes…Ryan arrives on his neutral support bike at 39 minutes down…but he is physically ok.

Saturday morning at 8 am was another 92 mile rolling race…. super fast with a pair of short climbs each 23 mile lap that were testing. On the 3rd lap the field splits on these climbs… Abe makes it and Ryan and I catch on after a bit of a chase. About 100 riders speed toward the finish…half the field left. The run-in was super high speed… 35 mph for about 10 miles. A crash at 5km to go made things a little scary, but we finished on same time as the leaders. Where were Shawn and Mark? We go the car and see Mark’s bike….but Shawn is there. Turns out Mark broke his chain at the decisive moment in the race and Shawn gave him his bike. With neutral support ahead of them, Shawn had to hitch a ride back. Mark comes in about 15 minutes down on a bike about 4 sizes too small. Man… we just cannot seem to catch a break this weekend!

Saturday afternoon was a 2.5 mile uphill TT. We went off in number order, so the team was all together as opposed to GC order….this was cool….and the only good news was that since Mark was on Shawn’s bike, they recorded both of them as finishers and Shawn was able to ride the TT. This might be stretching the rules a bit….but it didn’t hurt anyone or affect the results at all. I rode well…or I thought I did but my time was extremely mediocre…disappointing in fact. With a 15% time cut we knew none of us was assured a start in the crit Sunday. I ended up like 70th….damn….last year I was in the 20s here.

Sunday was the notoriously hard crit on one of the most difficult courses I have ridden. My moral was low, but I was determined to at least stay in long enough to get a finishing time and GC place. I suffered for the first 3 laps near the back, but was not going to give up. Then, just after a tough chicane, I stood to sprint and my bike just went sideways. I flailed and slammed my shin on my pedal but kept the bike up. I thought I had broken the pedal and rode around the course, pedaling mostly with one leg, headed for the pit and a free lap. At fist I thought we could just put a new pedal on and get me pushed back into the race…and it took me more than a few moments to realize that my cleat had broken off the plate on my shoe and was still stuck to the pedal. Without another shoe, I was out of luck: race over. That was almost the shortest amount of time in a race…4 laps and about 8 minutes…, an incredibly disappointing weekend for me. Mark actually stayed in and finished the race with only about 55 guys…impressive.

All in all not a particularly auspicious weekend for team A&F…however, the road races were a great experience…riding in that big a field at those speeds should have a positive training effect…..let’s hope for better luck at Tri-Peaks next week….


Sunday, May 07, 2006

Town Mountain Road Hill Climb

Friday was the Town Mountain Road Hill Climb here in Asheville. This is a 5 mile course that starts right downtown and climbs up about 1500 ft. The first 1.5 miles is super steep (15%?), then it levels off and kind of stair steps up to the top. I held the record on the "new" course with 18:24. I say new course because in 2002 the course was about 300 meters shorter and that year was the revival of the race. At that time there was a $1000.00 bonus offered to the rider who could break the standing record and none other than Scott Moniger showed up and decimated it with something like a 16:09. I think I rode an 18:12 that year....for 5th place behind a bunch of pros like Chris Sheppard and Ceasar Grajales. The new course is between 20-30 seconds longer (downhill) than the old one. I set the new course record in 2004 (I think) on a beautiful spring day.

OK, enough ancient history. This year there was a $500.00 bonus on offer to break my record...which in my estimation was extremely breakable by anyone who is a real climber. I figured my fitness is at least as good as a couple of years ago and I came within about a minute of my time in training a couple of weeks ago, so I thought I could go better than the record. The question was: would anybody faster than me show up? Potential candidats were: Dan Timmerman just off his 2nd place GC at Shenandoah, Larry Perrera, or Hugh Moran. All are in the area and could come out and best me. Justin England who would surely KILL the record was out doing the Tour of the Gila.

The event got started in a steady cold rain on friday evening. Dan and Larry showed up....seeing Dan I was sure that I would not get the best time of the night...but would the record fall? I hoped that I could at least beat my old time, regardless of how much faster Dan went. I got a great warm-up and my legs actually felt supple and rested. My only complaint was that with all the pollen out lately I have had some breathing troubles.....but whatever. I put tons of warming oil on my legs and was off to the start. It was cold, but during the ride up I was completely comfortable.

I started well and did the first 1.5 miles within myself and was right on target, or even a little ahead of my goal to that point. The bike actually felt fast, my speed looked good and legs felt ok. Onto the flatter part, the air felt a little heavy with some serious fog and still steady was actually kind of epic...although you can hardly call a <20 minute event epic. As I entered the last mile or so I noticed that my power was a little lower than what I would have expected to be pushing....but I couldn't really get any more out of myself, so I just rode. I remember crossing the "old" finish line at about 18 minutes flat (which would have been exactly even with my old record split to that point) so I knew it was going to be close. I finished in 18:30...just outside the old record :( ...but I felt pretty good about the ride.

As I was heading down I stopped to cheer on Cara, and then was waiting for her to ride down. This was a bit of a mistake as I just got really cold and eventually left to go down before she showed up. The ride down was absolutely freezing...I think it was harder than going up. So Dan smashed the record with a 17:50...a good time, but I wager he will go even faster if he is around next year. I was certainly not surprised...I figured he would beat me by about 30 seconds, but it was in fact 40. Ahhh to be 23 again! Dan is on track to be a big pro road race star in the next few years, so I cetainly can't feel too bad about coming second to him.....

As per the graph above: my average power was 346 watts for the 18:30. This is a little lower than I would have expected....but not too much. At about 146lbs (66.36Kg) that puts me at about 5.21 watts/Kg. You will notice that the power/speed / cadence all fluctuate a lot over the ride. This speaks to the fact that the course in quite variable as far as grade etc.... While it IS certainly a hillclimb, it is technical in respect to pacing and gearing. I did use my mini clip-on aero bars and spent proably half of the distance (but less than half the time) in them. I think if the weather was nice I WOULD have bested my old record and considering the conditions I was relatively happy...hopefully next year I can put up a bettter time...and it is good to know that I am not getting any slower...but I don't think I will ever break 18 minutes on this course....a2

mon - thurs 5/1-5/4

Not much in the way of training this week after the tough stage race last week. I went out and did 3 hours with some climbing tuesday: mistake. I knew I was tired, but it was a nice day and I wanted to get out and ride a fun loop. I realized about 2 hours in that I was still exhausted and probably just delayed full recovery by riding too long.

Most other rides this week were about 2 hours. Thursday I went on a nice low-key mountainbike ride at bent creek. This was super fun....not many other riders out in the middle of the day and I really enjoyed it. Every time I get on the mountain bike I wonder why I don't do it more. Part of the reason is that even though we have some of the very best trails in the country still have to drive to get to them. Even 30 minutes each way adds extra time, when I can ride on great roads right from my front door. Still...I hope to get more MTB time this season than last. If nothing else it is a great change of pace and helps recharge desire to ride. I find it funny that since I started out exclusively riding and racing MTB back in the early 90's, I always had the cutting edge ....even though I do have a new KONA hardtail frame (2004), my components are stuck in 1998. I still have SRAM 8 speed grip shift, and of course to top it off a lovely 1998 Rock Shox Judy SL, which has like 20mm of travel. Believe it or not though, it all works relatively well. If I find myself on the MTB much more though, I hope to at least upgrade to some 9 speed XT drivetrain parts.

Another thing that is really nice about getting on the MTB once in a while is that it really helps balance muscles and works on focus....especially on the more technical trails. AND with the huge variety of gearing and cadence when going up and down it is a very different stress than riding on the road. My legs usually feel refreshed after a couple hours of moderate MTB riding.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Tour of Shenandoah Report

Tour of Shenandoah

April 26-30th 2006

The first big stage race of 2006 for me…and what a race! This year’s edition was 6 days, 7 stages over some of the toughest courses I have ever raced on….and that includes the big NRC events I have done in the last 15 years.

My A&F teammate Jered Gruber and I partnered up with Phil Southerland to form Team Type 1 / A& F. Phil is a diabetic, as is the promoter of the Tour of Shenandoah. Phil’s goal is to raise $$ for diabetes research and promote awareness. On Wednesday evening they had a silent auction to raise $$ and Phil gave a great talk. I actually learned quite a bit, and was happy to be a part of the event.

Stage 1 was a 2.6 mile prologue TT in Dayton, VA, starting downtown and, after a mile of so of flat, climbing up Mole Hill. The course was a fantastic prologue, fast to start and hard. Since they sent us out in alphabetical order, I was first off out of close to 100 riders. Normally I hate being the first to go, with nothing but empty road to see ahead, but this day it was great. I got lots of announcer time as I was the first to kick off the tour. I went well, but short TTs are not my specialty. I opted to use the full TT rig which was a good choice and put up a time of about 7 minutes flat, only good enough for 30 somethingth place. Tom Zirbel from the Priority Health team put in an unbelievably fast time to take the first leader’s jersey.

Stage 2 was a 30 mile flat/fast evening criterium in downtown Harrisonburg, VA. Good crowds and an average speed of nearly 30mph made the race fast, but not difficult to hang in. I made 2 pointless attacks to test the legs and generally felt good. 2 Fiora di Friutta riders got away with 2 laps to go and stuck it for the win. Local Asheville part-time resident Dan Timmerman was the impressive winner.

Stage 3 was the start of the 3 back to back 100 mile mountain road stages. Starting in Staunton and finishing 105 miles and 2 huge climbs later in Hot Springs, the race was aggressive from the start and I was right there. For some dumb reason I really wanted to be in the early break today, so I went for it…again and again, making all the splits in the first few miles until something finally stuck. This initial group of 5 or 6 quickly turned into a group of 12-15 and the cooperation disappeared. That means more attacks. I must have covered 100 attacks in the first 5 miles, but it was worth it and we soon had a split of 7 riders working hard together: 2 riders from Priority, 2 from AEG Toshiba, 1 Fiora, 1 RiteAide (Christoph!) and me. We HAMMERED for miles. The roads were rolling and fast. We built a significant advantage that by mile 50 had turned into over a 5 minute lead. The first big KOM climb of the day was at mile 57. I thought I could make it with these guys, but I was wrong. They attacked like crazy before and on the climb and guess who was off the back chasing….me. The break split in 3 parts: 3 x 3 x 1. I was only 15 seconds behind the guys in front of me going over the top, but when they regrouped with the other 3 and started working together on the downhill I started losing ground quickly..and my legs started to give out. I took the downhill alone and started across the flat section. At this point Josh Dillon had come across to me from a chase group and I hopped on his wheel. We got about 20 seconds to the break, then I couldn’t hold on any more and was back to riding alone watching him ride across solo. A few miles later the remains of the chase caught me …but again I couldn’t hold on and rode the next 10 miles alone until the field finally caught me with only about 5 miles to go before the last big climb of the day. I was spent and when we hit the climb I went out the back like a brick. I struggled the last 10 miles with 4 or 5 other riders, and then caught a bigger group with just a couple miles to the finish to lose a whopping 18 minutes on the stage. At least Mike Cody who was in the early break with me ended up in this group as well. Christoph had come apart on the last climb and lost 6 minutes also. All in all only 2 of the original 7 man break made it to the finish in front.

I was quite disappointed after the stage with losing so much time and with coming apart so badly. I made the mistake of thinking I could ride toe to toe with the young pro guys…but the big hand of reality came down and put paid to that notion….still.. I guess I am glad I tried. Jared had a good race and finished in the second group just a couple of minutes back from the leaders. This night we stayed at the beautiful, historic Homestead Resort. The Homestead was opened in 1766 and is a posh resort…not the kind of place bike racer get to frequent often.

Stage 4 was another mountain road race day. 110 miles from Hot Springs to Buena Vista, over numerous big climbs including the daunting Vesuvious climb. It was fast from the start again and a break finally got off and up the road. Vesuvious was just past the mid-way point in the race and I was hoping I could do a good enough climb to keep me near the front of the race. We hit the climb with the break just a couple minutes ahead of the field. They hit it hard too. I remembered this climb from last year…almost 30 minutes of steep climbing. I set into my long climb mode and while I couldn’t hang with the front 10 or 15 riders I was not too far behind, picking up the shrapnel the was being shelled out of the front group. I went over the top after a solid steady (painful) climb less than a minute behind the leaders. We had a group of 10 or so and chased hard on the extremely long downhill. When we hit the flat at the bottom we could see the leaders and after a few more miles we were with them. Of course I attacked right away, but was chased immediately. We rode fast but mostly steady toward the final 2 back to back climbs of the day. I was feeling good. With about 17 miles to go, just before the base of the second to last climb I put in a solid attack and got the company of about 5 riders…..and the group was letting us go. We quickly got a gap of 30 seconds, but only 2 or 3 of us were working. Finally an LSV rider attacked and was going away from our group. I set out after him alone just as the climb started. I chased him all the way up the climb about 10 seconds behind, but could not make it up to him. I felt great and was well out of sight of any chase until about 1km to go on the climb. At this point I saw the hitters coming after us. 3 riders passed me and I could not even think about getting the wheel, then Josh Dillon (again!) came flying by. At this point I could see the summit, but I could also see what was left of the group behind coming up quickly. I rode hard until the road started to top out, then soft pedaled and waited for the group which was now less than 25 riders. I held them on the down hill and part way up the final climb, but again had to let them go…they were breaking into small groups at this point. Unfortunately I had to do the final descent to the finish alone into a headwind, but it was quite fun to have the entire road to myself…both lanes, all out as fast as I could go. The crowds were great at the finish and I came in just a couple minutes down with only about 20 riders ahead of me. I was very pleased with the ride today.

Stage 5 was a relentlessly rolling 95 mile course from Lexington to Bedford. My legs hurt today. I tried to go with an early move and just could not get my legs to go. I almost went out the back on the first climb! After going over this climb and rolling down a fast downhill, we hit a stretch of dirt road. There were lots of punctures. I thought I was OK, but just at the end of the section my rear wheel went flat. The guys were hammering all out at the front and here I was waiting a couple of minutes for neutral support to give me a wheel. SRAM support finally hooked me up and I was on my way…but I was sure I would never get back on …and it was just 10 miles into the race! The thought of 90 miles alone was not pleasant…but the SRAM guy came to the rescue pacing me and 2 other riders back to the group. Doing 35mph behind a support car with no visibility on twisting up and down narrow roads was a harrowing experience and I almost came off a couple of times. We made it back…..but there was still 80 miles to go. My legs felt bad at the start, but now they were destroyed and I suffered horribly through most of this stage. The longest climb was just a few KMs long and not too steep, so I survived that. Christoph had been in the break again and secured the KOM jersey, so that was good. This stage just got harder and as we went. We turned onto extremely narrow, winding, up and down roads that split the field at about mile 60. After much chasing it came back together, but a break of 15 had gotten away, never to be seen until the finish. With about 10 miles to go, the race just turned off. The leaders were gone and we finally started riding slow for the first time in 4 days…until, of course, about 5 miles to go, when the after burners were lit again. The run-in to the finish was really fun. Jared and I actually went to the front and led out the field sprint. I took it from about 1KM to less than 200 meters before the guys came around….it felt great to finish the stage strong after such a tough day. After this stage we had to bum a ride off the lovely podium girl Rene to get to our hotel for the last 2 nights in Natural Bridge, VA.

Stage 6 was a 14 mile difficult rolling time trial. With tired legs and a low GC position it was a little difficult to force the effort today…but I put in a good ride, suffering all the way for a time of 32:30 and 15th on the stage. Very rarely do I finish a TT unhappy with my performance, but today was one of those days…I felt like I could have gotten a top 10 time.

Stage 7, the final stage of the race was a tough crit in downtown Waynesboro. With a nasty hill to negotiate 33 times it was not a foregone conclusion to stay in the race. With some cold symptoms coming on and very sore legs I was a little worried…but it turned out fine. It was a fast, hard race, but I stayed out of trouble and finished with the field, as did Jared.

I had a great time doing the race this year. The courses and the organization were the best ever for this 4 year old event… and the people, competition and scenery was top notch. I was very surprised at the level of the racing from the teams present. The young pro riders who dominated this event are the ones who we will be reading about racing in Europe in just a few years. Overall winner Brent Bookwalter is soon to be a super star and there are more lining up behind him. A big thanks and congratulations for such a great event go out to race organizers Matt Butterman and Dave LeMay.